The most important rule of logo design

Joe writes, “I recently was asked to come up with a new logo design for the Long Island Curling Club in Bellmore, New York. I’ve attached the existing logo as well as some comps of what I came up with. They still love their logo. How do I convince them that their logo just isn’t cutting it? Any advice on how I can win them over?”

Current logo:

My comps:


Joe, keep in mind that an old logo is filled with personal meaning, regardless of its aesthetic qualities. While your new design is technically sound, it doesn’t pack the history, tension, or emotion necessary to overcome their attachment to the familiar (and beloved) old one.

By discarding the old one completely, my guess is that you took away too much. Try a simpler redesign that incorporates one element (at least) from the old — the Long Island silhouette or the target (called a “house,” I believe), and possibly keep an older-style, serif typeface.


Dear readers, I wrote about this topic in Issue 33. An excerpt . . .

As a designer, you most likely think first in terms of aesthetics — this image is prettier than that — or about what each element “symbolizes.” But be careful. What an image symbolizes to you has no bearing on what it means to the client. To the client, it’s the old logo that has meaning.

Why? Because everyone who works for a company has to some degree adopted an identity. We bring to a job our education, abilities, ambitions, and take from it income, friends, lifestyle. We identify these experiences with the company and infuse its logo with personal meaning, whether the logo is artistically attractive or not.

The logo is not “just a graphic” any more than a flag is a piece of colored cloth.

That’s why it’s so hard to design. You’re working on sacred soil. I’m exaggerating only a little, but I’m not kidding.

Thing is, a client asking for a redesign will not be aware of this — that what he knows and values about his company is attached to its logo, and that he’s asking you to replace it. He’s asking for a new flag.

Advice. If you feel qualified, do the job. Before unveiling it, prepare your client. Tell him he can expect to feel uncomfortable at first, because you’re replacing what he knows with a foreign thing. Tell him to not look for his familiar symbolism in it. It is being changed. But assure him that once his choice is made, his old meaning will gradually be transferred to the new logo.

Then show him your best work.

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42 Responses to The most important rule of logo design

  1. Kathy Stroud says:

    Not really sure about the fish. I like their target-like circles.

  2. Rick says:

    Seems like using the two “c’s” would be an obvious choice to convert/stylize to two different “color rocks,” especially with the font you’ve chosen. From a non-Islander, but a Canadian who knows curling, the whale has little impact on the type of club it is, or where it’s located. I would substitute it with a Long Island graphic itself (maybe silhouetted) behind the letters to give it geographical significance and maintain part of the original feel. My 2¢ (Canadian).

  3. Andy says:

    Great case study. Thanks for sharing. I completely agree, having had a similar situation arrive in the past with a client of my own.

    In my case, we halted the job and took a step back with the client to discuss further his reasons for wanting to change his logo. The reasons were sound, but the client had not fully committed to the change. Sounds odd, but through incorporation of elements/themes from the previous logos and through more exhaustive discussions, we essentially gave the client a more active role in the logo development process, which brought him around.

    My points:

    1. Make the client a part of the process and give him/her a more active role

    2. I believe that if there is history, emotional attachment and “equity” in a brand logo, it should evolve and not break too hard from its past

  4. Laura says:

    I feel your pain. As the director of marketing for my company, we convinced the boss that our logo was outdated, dull, and cumbersome to work with. To make a long story short, after going through many iterations with a design firm we were not able to get buy-in from our board. All that time and money gone. Looking back, it would have been advisable to have a member of the executive committee or the board be a part of the logo redesign team that worked with the design firm. In other words, include someone in the process who could be an advocate for the new design that wasn’t from marketing. John is right. Logos are sacred, and if you have to try to convince the owner that their logo needs updating, you may get them to look at new designs but probably won’t get them to adopt a new design.

  5. John Driscoll says:

    They obviously don’t like something about their current logo or they wouldn’t have asked for a redesign. The question to ask in the initial client meeting is: What DO you like and what DON’T you like about your current logo?

    The answers to those questions will probably put you on the right track for a more successful redesign.

  6. Mary Ramirez says:

    As challenging as throwing out everything the client had before, keeping some or all of the original look is just as rocky. As John pointed out, there is a history with the old look, good or bad; a story that the client wrote himself.

    On the other hand, if the client requests that you give an old company a new look, you can be distracted by the current look to the point that you can’t move ahead with a new design.

    An oval with curved type? . . . . okay, if you say so . . .

  7. DrKoob says:


    As always, your comments are right on target, but I might go just a little further: Not only would the club want some of their older logo left over, the dramatic edition of a fish as the dominant element (when I look at it, that’s the first thing I see) might be throwing them off. I am not sure where the fish came from. But if I were a long-time member of that club and you brought that logo to me, that would be my first objection.

    One thing I have learned is always show your ideas but never bring in anything from left field unless there is a reason.


  8. olwen Bruce says:

    Hi there! I know this is hard, but you have to keep something of the old logo. So instead of adding another element, please lose the fish and make the curling thing into the logo, maybe keeping the old colors. Sadly, the second comp makes the C’s look like the euro symbol; it doesn’t work for me. However, both of them are better than the old one! Please keep us posted.

  9. Pingback: Treading on Sacred Ground: Logo Design « David Seah / Agenceum

  10. Linda says:

    About the old logo: I had no idea until I read the description that the long, white thing was supposed to be Long Island. And I thought those were bullseyes until I read the full name. About the new logo: I like the fish and the curling handle but see no need for the initials; instead, the name under the fish design would be fresh and simple.

  11. Christopher Alleyne says:

    Brilliant advice as always.

    Also, I would suggest that one could integrate both the curling rock and the house from the existing design into the counters of the two letter c’s . . .

    Not clear on the shark, btw . . . !

  12. Pam Coblyn says:

    Joe . . . I’m a Long Island girl and familiar with all the usual symbols and icons. If all else fails, try using a lighthouse. I’m just not liking the shark . . . perhaps you could try the curling handle on top of one of the C’s.

  13. I’m wondering what the age group of the members is. And they may be wanting to impart the history of the club, hence an older, more historic feel would “reel” them in. Agree about the fish; why is it there?

  14. Mel says:

    I would guess: (1) The acronym — LICC — is kind of ICCKY, (2) there are no fish in curling, and (3) why present only one concept?

  15. John S. Hall says:

    Maybe it’s because of the season, but my first thought on glancing at the new logo was, “Why is the shark wearing a Santa hat?”

    I don’t think the old logo is that swift, either, but I can see why the client probably balked at such a radical redesign.

  16. Eric Moore says:

    The fish/shark graphic is cool, but it has nothing to do with the curling club unless that’s their mascot or something. I think your second comp minus the fish and moving the broom outside the 2 C’s and incorporating a similar typeface as the original could work.

  17. Greg says:

    Wow, tough one. I say that mostly because I’m more attracted to the old logo. I agree with the comments that it should be more of an evolution than a replacement. I could see simply updating the typeface, and changing the black rectangle/reversed silhouette somehow.

    I don’t think the acronym or the shark add anything, and the stone and broom illustrations are not as effective (to me) at saying “curling!” Most non-curlers are only familiar with curling from seeing it during the Winter Olympics, or when you happen to see an ice rink in a mall on curling day. For that reason, the mod targets are much more effective.

    Don’t mean to be overly critical or blunt, I just think their old logo has a lot going for it, and you shouldn’t throw it out. I know with logo updates/re-designs that it’s easy to feel like you need to present something brand new and fresh to feel like you’re giving the client the value they paid for, but sometimes just tweaking around the edges is all that is needed. Look at giants like Newsweek and Prudential for logo evolution. Sometimes the changes are unnoticeable unless you know you’re looking for changes.

    • JR says:

      I’m drawn to the old logo, too. I think the concepts, while nice in their own right, are too much of a contrast from their old logo. Maybe still incorporate the island or circles (can’t remember the proper name, though I know someone said it).

  18. Skip Savage says:

    I remember the day when I read Harry Beckham’s advice to give a business a name, not a monogram.

    That was the day I noticed that most of the banks in Canada had made that mistake — RBC, CIBC, TD, and BMO — losing most of their character in the process.

    And if your initials spell a word, or hint at a funny one, like LICC, I would bury it quickly.

    I can’t be too dogmatic about this though. Some shock value could be rewarding. Just ask French Connection UK.

  19. Julien J says:

    What I think is that you have to think about what the client wants and not just what he says he wants — a completely new design or a “rejuvenation,” and why.

    (Look at the MySpace logos — the only thing that doesn’t change is the color.)

  20. Travis West says:


    I agree with your comments. Some fifteen years ago a partner and I had a very productive service business. We worked hard on the original logo and felt that it really did represent what we stood for.

    One year, we decided to hire a design firm to complete a redesign of all of the service forms, letterhead, and stationery used by our company. The designers felt that the original log was outdated and told us so. Well, they were the experts . . . right? After seeing their “sexy updated logo,” we reluctantly agreed to the change. We regretted that decision for years.

    As the principals of the company, we had adopted our identity (including the original logo) and never really felt comfortable with the newer logo. By the time we both understood that, however, we had too much invested in printed materials and just couldn’t justify going back.

    Oh well, lesson learned!

  21. Pingback: The most important rule of logo design | Before & After | Design Talk | Smart Websites and Graphic Design |

  22. Judy says:

    As a lifelong Long Islander, I just wanted to jump in about the fish icon. Long Island is fish shaped, and the Native American name for the Island is Paumanok, meaning fish-shaped island. So while I feel the logo is a little too much fish and not enough Long Island, I totally get why we need to keep the fish graphic in there somewhere.

    • JR says:

      This explains so much! I don’t think an outsider would understand the fish/whale/shark reference.

  23. Michelle says:

    I like the idea of incorporating the broom into the “I”, but extending the handle across the C’s makes the logo read “Lice” to me.

  24. I’ll just restate something that has been said: namely, that there were some interesting elements in the old logo, enough so that it would have been possible to “evolve” the existing design, rather than sweep it under the rug. Personally, I liked the house, and I believe an acronym is unnecessary for this kind of institution.

    However, that’s a tough call to make, and it takes a lot of discussion with the client to know which way to go.

  25. Great essay. Very educating. Thanks.

  26. Speaking from a client’s perspective, John’s wisdom is sound. I would add one thing; if we are asking for a redesign, it’s because we know something about the old no longer fits. The designer’s challenge is to tease out of us 1) what we really want to get across (that will likely come out early and late in the conversation), and 2) what resonates with us still from the old (giving some clues on how to convey it in a current form). In both cases, getting as high up the decision-making tree as possible is a vital part of the process; the marketing department (if any) should help you climb the tree, but not climb it for you. Two-way communication is vital to creating an element that will continue to communicate everywhere it is used.

  27. Anne says:

    Most of my early jobs came from clients who’d paid big bucks to a designer for something that was lovely, or cutting edge, or . . . but did not suit the client’s wishes. As a result, they were reluctant to hire professional design services again. I talked a lot of people off the ledge, as it were. I had to convince them we would work together and within their budget.

  28. Jeffrey M says:

    Excellent post John, and your answer is spot on. Finding that aspect of the old logo to which a client feels a strong emotional connection is one key to converting the mark into a successful redesign. Many times that particular feature may (or may not) have anything at all to do with well-presented aesthetics. A good logo designer will try to augment or strengthen that attribute while tying it into a consist, presentable whole. Having said this, for this particular job, I would probably use the Long Island silhouette, and one red/blue target as starting point and springboard for working up a new design.

  29. Anit Mehta says:

    Your designs are very good! However, my guess is they are not used to having a modern outlook.

    It does get a bit difficult in these types of situations. We often have the same problem. The best thing to do is get a proper brief from them. Once you have their response, it’s best to redo with what they visualize. It’s no good trying to sell them on it, since they have to live with it thereafter. They have to love it — then “all is well.”

    Keep trying.

  30. Teresa Hansen says:

    Another consideration when making a logo change is the weight of the logo. The original logo is fairly weighty. The new one is not. When you consider the stones used in curling, I think the weight is appropriate. As others have mentioned, the fish seems like a possibly unnecessary addition.

  31. Mats says:

    For those of you who are interested in seeing other possible logo designs for the Long Island Curling Club, I’d like to point you to their Facebook site:

  32. Joe says:

    Hello, I’m the designer who wrote in this project. I’d like to thank all of you who took the time to comment; it really means a lot to me.

    I was approached to take on this project by a fellow curler who happened to be a member at my curling club as well as Long Island. Long Island is a fairly new club, so I don’t think there was really a long history of attachment to the existing logo. I was asked to come up with something new, something different, something “cool.”

    Being an active member of a curling club gave me the opportunity to see many diverse curling club logos, some very old with lots of tradition behind them, and others more modern and contemporary. I come from a commercial art background, and marketing is in my blood. When I compete in different clubs, I always look at the club’s logo. The first question I ask myself is, “Would I buy something with that logo on it?” If the answer is no, then I feel in some way that the design has failed. On the other hand, if I see a logo that I’m really drawn to aesthetically, I am more often than not inclined to buy something from the gift shop with that logo on it, because it looks great. To me, that’s a major aspect of a successful brand.

    Many curling clubs are non-profits and run on the funds they raise from memberships, hosted events, bar sales and gift-shop sales. With this in mind, I tried to come up with a design that would lend itself well to marketing merchandise. I tried to incorporate an image that is associated with Long Island. When I think of Long Island, I think of fishing, lighthouses, beaches, and vineyards. (No offense to Long Islanders for oversimplifying :-)

    After reading through all of the comments, I realize there is room to keep exploring other possibilities. Someone commented, “What does a fish have to do with curling?” For the record, my curling club has been around for over 100 years. Our logo has a duck holding a curling stone. One might wonder, “What does a duck have to do with curling?” Apparently, there is great significance to the duck dating back to the late 1800s. For this reason, I don’t feel that the logo needs to convey a literal message to everyone. In Long Island’s case, they considered incorporating a lighthouse into the logo, however, the Long Beach Island Curling Club uses a lighthouse in its logo, so they didn’t want to get confused with them.

    Another consideration of this project was the logo’s uniqueness and “likeability.” Every curling club has a pin made of its logo. It is customary in the world of curling for members to trade pins with curlers from other clubs. Each member of the club has to purchase these pins from their club for trading. If your club has a really cool pin, then everyone wants one, therefore resulting in high pin sales. If your pin is not that “cool,” then most people won’t go out of their way to trade with you. So, I was also shooting for the “cool pin” factor as well.

    I will continue to work up some more comps, and I will be sure to forward the results to John so everyone can see the final outcome.

    Thanks again for the comments.

    Joe Panella

  33. Naomi Young says:

    What I appreciate most about the advice given to Joe in this column is the humility of the Before & After designer. In all my interactions with graphic designers, I’ve never come across someone so willing to forgo aesthetics or even designing a logo altogether! You do not appear concerned to see your name put against a less-than-ideal design if it means that the client is satisfied or the ultimate aim of a brief met. I am encouraged to reduce my own ego! :) Thanks

  34. Steve Sagala says:

    Remember: Curling is a northern sport. The existing design strikes me as representing a predator pouncing. Athletes like that! The new one says, “Take the family to SeaWorld!” Fail.

  35. Thank you for sharing this.

    Such lovely designs — and such talent here.

    Thank you.

  36. Debbie Lind says:

    Look at the Pepsi logo — look what they do inside the circle. It’s the same but different, and I’m always amazed what they come up with and it’s still a circle with red, white, and blue. It’s clever to change the logo but not really deviate from the original. I think I would miss the circle if Pepsi took it away.

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